What Role Should the Board of Directors Play in Hiring a Development Director?

By Mary Ontko
Senior Consultant
The Moran Company “We Find Great Nonprofit Executives”

Development leaders play a key role in helping a non-profit organization realize its mission. They help craft their charity’s organizational story and vision, and they share it with philanthropists, volunteers, and the community at large. Hiring the right development professional can be transformative to an organization. It is no wonder that the Board of Directors is keenly interested in successfully filling the development position. Here at The Moran Company, we’ve worked with many non-profit organizations to successfully place qualified development professionals. In our experience, the Board does have a role in hiring this key position – but it may not be the role they think.

What Not To Do:

  1. Do NOT stray too far from internal hiring procedures. The development lead is a professional staff position, typically reporting to the CEO. As such, we encourage our clients to follow their established hiring processes and procedures when filling this position with our support. Generally, this means that the CEO is the primary decision-maker in the internal hiring process, as well as the staff leadership team. The Board of Directors usually does not play a formal role in hiring these kinds of staff positions, with the exception of their critical function to hire the organization’s CEO, often in partnership with an executive search firm.
  2. Do NOT hire someone based on sales experience alone. Sometimes Board Members suggest a candidate with strong sales experience to fill a fundraising role. While transitions from for-profit sales to non-profit resource development can certainly be successful, they are not always the fit some Boards think they will be. At The Moran Company, we’ve developed an experience- and situation-based interview process that helps us determine each candidate’s productivity and fit for the organization. In our experience, these are better indicators of success as a development professional than meeting sales quotas.
  3. Do NOT hire someone for their personal contacts alone. We’ve also heard Board Members say that they would like to hire a perceived “hot shot” fundraiser who will bring his or her Rolodex of connections to the new organization. While relationships are certainly important, the most successful development professionals will demonstrate the ability to create relationships that are unique and significant to the charity based on the donor interests, not based on the fundraiser personality.  At The Moran Company, we are experienced in speaking with candidates to determine their ability to create relationships on behalf of the charity. This helps us verify which candidates have the fundraising skills to meet the client’s goals. And, sometimes to the Board’s surprise, it may not be the “hot shot” fundraiser who is best suited for the role. Even understated fundraisers can have rock star results.

What To Do:

While we recommend that the CEO be the primary organizational point of contact for a development search, there are several very important roles that a Board of Directors should fill during this search:

  1. DO share reputation and information. Many times, Board members are better connected to a variety of charitable sectors than the organization’s CEO, whose expertise may reside within a particular sector. Board members also have wide networks. They can use these to receive and share input about top candidates. How are they regarded by their peers? Their organization’s boards of directors? Their donors? The Moran Company collects this information as part of our thorough search process, and it is helpful when other community leaders can provide similar information to provide corroboration to the search findings.
  2. DO have informal conversations or interviews. Several of our clients have used their Board Chair or Development Committee Chair as a part of the interview process, inviting them to tour the organization or have coffee individually with the top candidates as the process nears its completion. This Board involvement will impress the candidate and will provide him or her with a volunteer perspective. (Remember, the good candidates have other options and are also interviewing the organization to make sure it’s a good fit.)  In addition, the Board member can offer a new perspective on the top candidates for the CEO and leadership team, as they near the end of their decision-making process.
  3. DO let the process work. If the non-profit has developed a strong hiring process through the leadership of its executive, HR department and leadership team, then let the process work. An executive search firm such as The Moran Company can be an important partner in this effort and will recruit, screen and share candidates that are determined to be a good match based on their proven qualifications and fundraising style. Trust in the process, and welcome a strong new development leader at its end.

Ultimately, the Board of Directors can play a very helpful complementary role to an executive search firm like The Moran Company, who will work closely with the CEO and navigate expectations between all parties throughout the organization’s search for a Development Director. With these tips, the Board can ensure that the next Development Director their organization hires will bring the results they expect. After all, the Board and Development Director must work together to support each other’s efforts and ensure the charity has the right resources to carry out its critical mission for years to come.

To learn more about how The Moran Company can assist your nonprofit with an upcoming executive search, simply contact us for a free 30-minute consultation for your organization.

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© 2017 The Moran Company, “We find great nonprofit executives.” We specialize in searches for nonprofit executive directors, directors of development/fundraising staff, and other top nonprofit leadership. www.morancompany.com